Tracking COVID-19 in San Diego

A new reality

It was early February when first news about potential COVID-19 cases started spreading in California, making the headlines in local newspapers. Evacuating a couple of hundred U.S. citizens from Hubei Province and quarantining them in two air bases, one of them being the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, was just the beginning of something much bigger. By the end of February China had nearly 80,000 confirmed cases. In March, we watched over the course of a couple weeks as the world shut down, with some grisly scenes from northern Italian hospitals and alarming news coming from other European countries. Having two offices – including one in Kraków, Poland – we sat on pins and needles while trying to stay informed and find the most reliable sources of information as the virus and subsequent events rapidly progressed.

Source: COVID-19 CSSE John Hopkins Data and trackingcovidsandiego.com

Events:

  • March 13 President Trump declared a National Emergency 
  • March 15 Treeline moved to full remote work schedule
  • March 19 California Governor Gavin Newsom declared Shelter in Place
  • March 20 An official epidemic was declared in Poland

That was when one of our teammates, Mark Adkins, announced that he had started a side project to create a real-time dashboard with up-to-date data regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Hey guys, since we are in quarantine I was thinking it would be fun to provide a portal for the San Diego community, some simple visualizations about covid19 and it’s spread in San Diego!

Mark Adkins, March 21

And this is how the story began. We would like to show you how a small in-house project of Treeline, nicknamed “Bell Curve” by one of our creative mates, has grown into a non-profit platform for local citizens of San Diego county. A project that’s near and dear to our team, and the best representation of the values we share at Treeline. 

Treeline was created with the desire to work with great people, on great projects and do great things. Treeline excels because our focus is to create innovative solutions in the industries we love. Our mission is to profoundly change how people interact with the world around them, while remaining true to our roots of running at startup speed.

Treeline Handbook

What we did 

With a team of developers, project managers and designers, we were able to create the first version of the website in a few days. Our main goal was to stay true to Agile principles by delivering a working concept first, and then iterating on it. It was crucial for us to keep the design and development (coding) phase as simple as possible, and to create an environment where we could work in a fast cycle. As one of the software design principles says: Keep It Simple Stupid. We introduced a simple process (Gitflow), used by many of our other projects, that allows us to work simultaneously on the project and not overwrite someone else’s code.

The first version of our website, https://trackingcovidsandiego.com/, launched on Mar 24. Since that initial launch, as agile methodology directs us to do, we have been continuously reevaluating our ideas and updating the site. Our goal is to be as accurate as possible, which is why we are integrating information (API integrations) from dependable sources including San Diego County and Johns Hopkins, to name a few. Special time requires special collaboration, so we do our best to be in touch with other  companies, such as San Diego based real estate & geographic data company Home Junction, to figure out whether we can help each other and integrate useful information data into our website. 

Our mission for the website is to put together helpful and local information regarding COVID-19. Since the very beginning, we’ve felt that the right path is focusing on San Diego and providing unique data for our local community. Useful, simple and local. 

Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Corona Task Force validated the approach and our vision as she discussed how the public health data on websites, particularly informing at a local level, was essential for State & Local governments to make decisions on reopening. That data concurrently needs to be delivered to the public so people can make informed, safe choices for themselves based on their situations and location [view the clip here: Clip: Dr. Birx, Comments on re-opening]
This is exactly what we are trying to achieve. By using solutions like Google Map integrations and push style notifications that work across various browsers and systems, we are reaching our goal of creating a data-driven, informed public.

How we did it

We picked technologies that allowed us to quickly deliver our solution to fellow residents. TrackingCOVID website is a single-page application site built using Vue.js framework. 

This framework focuses on the declarative construction of components based on MVVM architecture, which promotes the separation of the visual and logical layers. San Diego County has been keeping the public informed with local COVID-19 data through daily status updates on their website. The data is provided in non-interactive tables and PDF files which makes it difficult to properly visualize the local impact of this data to the general public. To make this data available on the Treeline powered website the county website is monitored using a Python script which is running in a Docker container hosted in Amazon Web Services Elastic Container Service. This script polls the San Diego County site daily from 4-6 PM and automatically pulls updated data and transforms it into JSON which is published to an Amazon Web Services S3 bucket. This file is easily ingested by the Vue.JS powered trackingcovidsandiego.com website which powers the interactive visual charts and graphs. 

Silver linings

World-wide pandemia has steamrolled into our lives whether we welcome it or not; it is unlike anything we have ever known. Even if we’re lucky enough to avoid it’s direct consequences, our daily routines have changed and no one knows for how long. Washing hands to the song ‘Happy Birthday’ is the new ‘cool’. We wear face coverings whenever we need to go out. We are creative with virtual social events. We are not able to visit our friends and family. We are thinking of our loved ones and making more calls home. We are being bombarded with contradicting news on a daily basis. We face times of uncertainty and fear, but through all this tragedy, we are called to unite globally, to do our part for society and in that, we encourage you to seek silver linings. It could be that unlimited time you spend with your dearest, or discovering new hobbies, or finally getting around to certain chores. We hope that you’ve already found your silver linings.

When Treeline was founded back in 2004, it would have been hard to predict that almost two decades later modern technology would help us shape and adjust social behaviours in times of global health crisis. We are trying to remind ourselves that here lies our silver lining: having the ability to be deeply connected as a virtual team and having the opportunity to give back to our local community. As our company culture handbook says:

Our success and recognition within the community is based on creativity, hard work and team collaboration.

If you would like to contribute to our non-profit project, don’t hesitate to contact us at: hello@treelineinteractive.com

Illustration by Piotr Hasooni.